NOV 17, 2021 9:53 AM PST

Large Flu Outbreak at the University of Michigan Draws CDC's Attention

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Every year, there is a flu outbreak, and the severity can depend on many factors, like what strain is circulating. Last year, not many people were infected with influenza, which many researchers attributed to precautions that were taken to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, like the use of masks and social distancing. But people have begun to go about their normal activities; kids are back at school, some people have returned to a workplace, and now, colder weather is pushing people indoors.

A TEM image of the H3N2 subtype of the Influenza A virus.  / Credit: CDC/ Dr. Fred Murphy

The flu season is expected to return this year like any other, but some experts have warned that this year, it could be an especially bad season because not many people were infected last year and did not have a chance to build any immunity. People have been encouraged to get a flu vaccine this year, and it's safe to get one along with a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

Usually, the flu is a mild illness and people can recover on their own. But for some people who are immunocompromised, or the young or elderly, the virus can present more serious complications, and several thousand people die from the flu every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating a large and rapid outbreak of influenza on the campus of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. The CDC, local officials, and investigators from the Michigan Department of Health want to learn more about the spread of the virus, which tests showed is a strain of influenza A called H3N2, and how effective this year's vaccine has been at preventing illness.

So far there have been 528 confirmed cases of influenza diagnosed by the Health Service at the university, and 77.1 percent of them were in unvaccinated people. Of the total number of cases, 313 happened in the week of November 8 and 198 cases in the week before that. These cases are also happening just before students get time off for the Thanksgiving holiday, and many will likely travel elsewhere.

Vaccination can reduce a person's chance of illness, hospitalization, or death, as well as lower the risk that they will spread the infection to others.

“While we often start to see some flu activity now, the size of this outbreak is unusual,” said Juan Luis Marquez, medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department. “We’re grateful for the additional support of the CDC and our ongoing partnership with the university as we look more closely at the situation.

“This outbreak doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact on the broader local community, but it does raise concerns about what the flu season may bring. Most importantly, we strongly recommend anyone not yet vaccinated against seasonal flu to do so. And anyone at higher risk of severe flu complications should talk to their doctor about prescription antiviral medications at the first sign of flu symptoms.”   

Sources: Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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